Paper recommendation: Claire Kremen on land sparing and sharing

By Joern Fischer

Finally: an authoritative must-read paper that provides an in-depth critique on the framework of land sparing versus land sharing. I highly recommend this new paper by Claire Kremen, published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences (and freely available here).

The paper is an impressive synthesis of a vast amount of literature on land sparing and land sharing. While it takes a critical perspective of the framework, it also acknowledges some of the key strengths of the work by the original proponents – including density-based field sampling, and a field design that allows the careful assessment of yield-density relationships.

The paper also addresses numerous other issues that have caused controversy and confusion in the past, including inconsistent terminology, and whether higher-yielding farming will actually spare land for nature. It synthesizes nicely up-to-date insights from a governance perspective, too – showing that without effective environmental governance, higher yielding agriculture may backfire badly on biodiversity conservation. Higher yielding agriculture, by whichever method, thus will not automatically lead to the sparing or land for nature.

I particularly liked the clear critique that there must be a consideration of who is to benefit from potential yield gains achieved. As one of very few leading scientists, Claire Kremen departs from the dominant, largely technocratic perspective that first, we must increase yields, and then worry about how to best distribute the material gains thus achieved. The world doesn’t work like this, and Claire Kremen emphasizes that equity considerations, explicitly accounting for smallholders, need to be part of potential management strategies from the outset.

Finally, I agree with the author that it’s time to come up with a new framework. The framework of land sparing versus land sharing was, and is, useful for focusing the attention of researchers on the intersection of two interrelated issues: food security (or production) and biodiversity conservation. This has been a great contribution, because many ecologists who never would have thought about these issues in combination are now ready to engage with these topics.

But: it’s time to move on, and add the further nuances that are clearly needed – including issues such as governance and equity considerations. The onus here, to my mind, is not on the original proponents of this framework, who did a great job getting an important issue on many, many people’s agendas. Rather, the onus is on the scientific community as a whole to move on: respecting what we have learnt to date, but recognizing that it, alone, will be insufficient to guide future policy or management decisions.